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Cricket historian and writer in Melbourne

Are South Africa a durable No. 1?

Their predecessors in the position had short reigns but Graeme Smith's team might just be the real deal

Gideon Haigh

March 19, 2013

Comments: 121 | Text size: A | A

Graeme Smith congratulates the Man of the Match Jacques Kallis, South Africa v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Cape Town, January, 6, 2012
South Africa have great strength man for man, but are truly formidable as a unit © Getty Images
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The tributes were not all one way when Ricky Ponting played his farewell Test in Perth late last year. After Graeme Smith formed his South Africans into an honour guard to welcome the Australian champion to the crease one last time, Ponting's post-match remarks included a sincere reciprocal compliment. Musing on the session after tea on the second day, when Smith and Hashim Amla put the Australian attack to the sword at eight runs an over, Ponting recognised a qualitative graduation in South African cricket.

"That was them trying to impose themselves on the series, and they did it better than I have seen any team take a game away from the opposition before," Ponting reflected. "A lot of the other teams we have played against over the years that have been in a position like that have been too scared to do that and push the game forward. What they did… was a sign that they had total belief in what they were doing." He was observing that the Proteas - ever competent but sometimes reticent - had moved their cricket to a new and intimidatory pitch of proficiency. From Ponting, this sounded especially resonant: his special subject here was not cricket but victory itself, about which the first Test cricketer to feature on a hundred winning sides might be expected to know more than a little.

The last few years have not been kind to dynastic thinking. Since Australia finally surrendered Test cricket's blue riband at The Oval in 2009, both India and England have been tried and found wanting, especially abroad, as world No. 1s. But in the rise of South Africa, are we now seeing the outline of a new global force to dominate all comers?

Their man-for-man strength is assuredly impressive. In "Notes to The Waste Land", TS Eliot enlarges on the lines in his poem referring to a mysterious extra presence in company ("another one walking beside you") by invoking an account of an Antarctic expedition where "it was related that the party of explorers, at the extremity of their strength, had the constant delusion that there was one more member than could actually be counted".

I'm reminded of the sentiment every time I scan a South African team sheet, when the 11 names seem somehow to encompass eight batsmen, six bowlers, until recently a couple of keepers, and four or five players who could be described as "leaders" in addition to the one, Smith, who officially leads.

In part, that's the Kallis effect at work: Smith has at his disposal a No. 4 batsman who can swing the old ball reverse at 140kph, and might at a pinch take the new ball as well. But there's more to it still. Ten batsmen in their squads of the last year have Test centuries to their credit (Smith, Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Alviro Petersen, Jacques Rudolph, Dean Elgar and Ashwell Prince), and four others half-centuries (Dale Steyn, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Albie Morkel). On the same lists, meanwhile, they have seven bowlers who have taken bags of five at Test level (Steyn, Peterson, Philander, Kallis, Morne Morkel, Marchant de Lange and newcomer Kyle Abbott). No international team matches them; no international team is even close. While the sempiternal Kallis is 37 years old and the openers each 32, the team's core members (Amla, Steyn, Morne Morkel, Philander, du Plessis, de Villiers, Duminy) all fall into that cricketing prime of the ages from 27 to 29. Growing up and maturing together lends itself to cohesiveness on the field and off.

Indeed, for all the individual brilliance the Proteas aggregate, it is their pride and purpose as a unit that most stands out clearly. Perhaps the most impressive dimension of their credentials as No. 1 is their record of having not lost a series on the road since 2006. Both India's and England's leadership pretensions dissolved quickly, India's outside Asia, England's in Asia. South Africa, by contrast, travel as assuredly as Patrick Leigh Fermor. They have inflicted heavy defeats on India in Nagpur and Ahmedabad in the last five years. England and Australia, where they have won consecutive series, hold no terrors for them.

Many factors go to a team's effectiveness away from home: experience, versatility, preparation, leadership. The South Africans seem to harness all these to a high level of trust among their senior membership: Smith, Kallis, Amla, Steyn, de Villiers, their erstwhile team-mates turned coaches Gary Kirsten and Allan Donald, and not least their long-serving manager Mohammed Moosajee. Almost every Test team has been plagued by off-field incident, rumour and innuendo in the last year. But since Herschelle Gibbs turned T20 troubadour, South Africa's team has achieved an almost tedious collective equanimity.

 
 
The Proteas' status as Test cricket's No. 1 is the more remarkable because it has been achieved in spite of the dysfunctionality of the surrounding administration - a tribute to the cordon sanitaire round the team created by its backroom staff
 

Where are their limitations? There is the abiding one of slow bowling, Robin Peterson holding the fort since Imran Tahir was dashed against Adelaide Oval's truncated boundaries, but at 33 unlikely to be a long-term solution. Their outcricket can look a bit lacklustre too, with some slow movers and weak arms; and although they are blessed with probably the world's two best slip catchers in Smith (160 catches in 110 Tests) and Kallis (194 catches in 162 Tests), drafting AB de Villiers as a keeper has cost them their most explosive and ubiquitous fielder.

Perhaps their greatest challenge, however, is the flip side of the aforementioned record on the road. For whatever reason, South Africa have reserved their greatest disappointments for home audiences: their defeat by Australia in 2008-09; their failures to do better than draw with England in 2009-10 and Australia in 2011-12.

Then coach Mickey Arthur put the first of these down to the Proteas' brief brush with No. 1 status after defeating Australia in Perth and Melbourne in December 2008. "Agents, managers and promoters were all over us - including me!" he recalls in his autobiography. "Offers to speak at dinners, breakfasts and lunches came thick and fast, while endorsement deals with very attractive numbers but nonetheless problematic distraction… If you weren't doubling or tripling your salary, then you were wondering why not and looking at your team-mates who were. Envy? Suspicion? There were several new emotions and feelings within the squad. Administrators, too, were wondering what their cut was."

This last line proved especially prescient, for when IPL2 landed in South Africa's midst in April 2009 like a giant starship with a dollar-powered warp drive, the long-term impact was an administrative mayhem from which Cricket South Africa has still to recover. The Proteas' status as Test cricket's No. 1 is the more remarkable because it has been achieved in spite of the dysfunctionality of the surrounding administration - a tribute to the cordon sanitaire round the team created by its backroom staff. With its chequered and repressive history, South Africa is a tough country in which to get anything done: violent, corrupt, politicised, polarised. Perhaps, in a reversal of the norm, it is actually easier for Smith's team to play to its potential abroad: the distractions are fewer, the expectations neither so intense nor so direct. When South Africa started dominating Australia at Perth late last year, as Ponting observed, they looked like neither an away team nor even a home team; they looked like conquerors and occupiers.

It's just gone a decade since that ruinous, rain-soaked night at Kingsmead when South Africa blew a chance to progress in the World Cup they were hosting, which spelt the end of Shaun Pollock's captaincy and the advent of Smith's. For Smith it may bode well that the next World Cup two years hence, which would perfectly climax his distinguished career, is in Australia.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

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Posted by jay57870 on (March 22, 2013, 5:56 GMT)

Gideon - You're right about the formidable "South African team sheet"! Australia's "secret dossier" of specific plans to wage "psychological warfare" on each SA player - with "verbal attacks" on Amla - obviously self-destructed. Ponting claimed: "We've done our homework on all of their players"! Homework-gate? Mickey Arthur the former SA mentor had his Oz boys mug up the answers. Or so he thought. He was outfoxed by super-master Gary Kirsten. After all, he had his boys train hard last summer on an Alps expedition with Mike Horn the adventurer. Even Kallis beat his fear of heights! Who needs Antartica? Result: SA beat the Poms in England. Gary also had Mike conduct motivational sessions for Team India, who went on to win WC 2011. The Kirsten-Dhoni led team also rose to the throne in Tests. With BCCI & IPL to contend with! Then Gary left for SA. India lost the crown to England. Will king SA hang on to it? Maybe with Kirsten around. Who knows? "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown"!

Posted by harshthakor on (March 22, 2013, 4:02 GMT)

They have the potential to emerge as an all-time great side with the depth in their pace bowling and their strong batting line -up.Above all this Proteas unit has a will to win -more than any past top South African Unit.Last Summer in England they displayed resilience not displayed by any of the S.African sides since they re-emerged into the International arena.However one must not forget the instablity and inconsistency of top teams in recent times in test cricket and S. Africa's decline in the past when reaching the top.Another factor is that the opposition is not as strong as it was in earlier decades with the decline in Australian cricket a major factor.Let us wish South Africa all the luck in consolidating their berth at the top and becoming a truly great side.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (March 21, 2013, 0:47 GMT)

@ pipsonian wrote "South Africa really struggled against Pakistan in UAE." The records prove him to be completely wrong. Both tests were drawn, but the innings figures tell if SA "struggled," or not.

1st test, SA scored 380 at a run rate of 3.08. Pak replied with 248 at a 2.61 run rate (RR). SA declared their 2nd at 318/2, RR 3.34. Pak secured the draw with 343/3 at RR 2.93. Overall, SA scored 107 more runs at 3.2 per over to Pak's 2.78 per over, & SA lost one less wicket.

2nd test, SA scored 584/9 dec @ RR 3.81. Pak scored 434 @ RR 3.01. On 203/5, @ RR 3.69, SA again declared, & Pak batted out, 153/3 @ RR2.28. SA scored 200 more than Pak at a RR of 1 per over more.

SA scored more runs, at a higher run rate, declared 3 times in 4 innings, and lost no more wickets than Pak, who played tuk tuk on dead wickets. By no stretch of the imagination, under any circumstances, did SA struggle in the UAE, scoring 307 more runs at a higher RR in EVERY innings. That is just NOT struggling.

Posted by Phat-Boy on (March 20, 2013, 22:47 GMT)

Sorry, Anindya Sen, but exactly what 'big stages' have South Africa choked on in recent times in the test arena (especially given that this story is about Test cricket). I'd have thought 3-down for not many with 4 sessions to bat out in Australia was a pretty big stage. They didn't choke then did they? What about the series decider in Perth, where they were looking to become just the second team (behind themselves, ironically) to win in Australia for 21 years? From memory they bashed Australia to smithereens, which would suggest they didn't choke. What about their trip to England? Did they choke in the series opener against their main rival for top spot? Because as I recall they made 600 and flogged them. Did they weather the storm in the second test from Pietersen? As I recall, they did. Did they snuff out Prior and Swann's final fight in the third Test? Records suggest that they did.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (March 20, 2013, 22:44 GMT)

@ Mr Gupta. Yes - India & SA drew their last 2 series & SRT scored 2 centuries in each. But that's not the whole story. Satchin was outplayed in both.

SA 1st test, SRT 36 & 111*. Kallis 201*, Amla 140, & AB 129. (1 inngs only.) 3rd test SRT 146 & 14*. Kallis 161 (last dismissed) & 109* with BROKEN RIBS.

Series batting: Kallis 498 runs, ave 166. SRT 326 runs, ave 81.5. Kallis: twice the ave, a double ton, 2 tons in 1 match. Twice player of match, player of series.

India, 1st test. SRT 7 & 100, Sewag 16 & 109. Kallis 173 & Amla 253* (1 inngs only.) 2nd test. SRT 106, Sewag 165, Laxman 143 & Dhoni 132 (1 inngs only.) Peterson 100 & 21, Amla 114 & 123*.

Series batting: Amla 490 runs, ave 490. Sewag 290 runs, ave 96, SRT 213 runs, ave 71. SRT did well, Sewag did better, but Amla: double SRT's runs, ave 7 TIMES HIGHER, century EVERY inngs incl. a double, dismissed just once - twice player of match, player of series.

Next time, tell the whole story, Mr. Gupta. It's called "the truth."

Posted by legfinedeep on (March 20, 2013, 21:16 GMT)

Apart from talk of Smith's retirement (the man just turned 32!), another annoying trend in the comments is to differentiate whether SA 'won" or 'just barely won". What does it matter how close it was if SA won anyway??? I mean, SA themselves used to "almost win" all the time in the 1990's - does that even mean anything? If "almost won counts then SA should be the best team of that period. But no, everyone kept referring to it as "CHOKING". And now, when they win by a narrow margin - everyone says the other team almost beat them, how about saying the other team ChOKED. People are so hypocritical and your bias against SA is glaring when you bring up this ridiculous point about HOW they won.

Posted by pipsonian on (March 20, 2013, 20:50 GMT)

SA is not the best cricket team at the present but yes they are the best test team. Wat made Aus different was tht they beat all teams in all formats. 16 undefeated test series, 3 ODI wrld cps in a row and had they stuck together for a little while, they would have been the best T20 team. See SA against Pakistan in the recently concluded series, there wasn't much to separate the two teams except the first test. On lot of occasions SA struggled against Pak's bowling and Pakistan had their selection problems. Lot of people forget past when in the company of present. South Africa really struggled against Pakistan in UAE and that is once again their next challenge. If they surpass that obstacle, they will enhance their test status a great deal and they MIGHT even surpass Australia in the TEST arena but they need to go beyond that and win 2 or 3 world cups in a row to really be serious contenders for the best all round team & not just a test team. I think Pak will be very tough for SA

Posted by legfinedeep on (March 20, 2013, 20:47 GMT)

It's amazing how many people are speaking about Graeme Smith's retirement. For heaven's sake, he just turned 32. He is fit and as a specialist batsman, he has more longevity than a bowler or all-rounder. I guess people tend to think he is a lot older than he is because he became captain at such a tender age, that it seems he has been playing forever. He can well play for a good 6-7 years if he keeps form, so stop talking about his retirement already - if you're Indian please redirect your retirement focus on one Mr Tendulkar, who plays less for the team and more for bloating his runs and records.

Posted by bored_iam on (March 20, 2013, 18:52 GMT)

..contd. Having said that, this team is DEFINITELY going to be a force in Eng, SA, Aus, NZ, WI for as long as they keep churning out the quicks like they are currently. (Abbott, Kleinvelt, de Lange, Morris. To add to Morkel, Steyn, Philander). 2years down the line, Australia will be a force to reckon with IF they can turn things around. Eng have a chance to go from good to great. But Id be really interested in seeing Ind & Pak. What after their current lot of greats retires? Can they become a global force again?

Exciting times to be a cricket lover! :-)

Posted by bored_iam on (March 20, 2013, 18:51 GMT)

Sadly i have to agree with @Malay Samant on this one. And being an Indian fan, Im a lil embarassed at the tone of some of our fans. I think its admirable to be passionate about our team, its a lil silly to start shouting down the achievements of another team. Before we get too excited, I think its still time to ponder our recent 0-8 whitewashes.

Back to the article, I strongly think SA is DEFINITELY on top atleast next 2yrs. But once Kallis and Smith depart-I genuinely think its going to be a lil difficult. Also, I am not so sure of the bench strength that SA possess. I understand that a team of Smith, Amla, Kallis, AB, Faf, Duminy is incredibly intimidating (as an ode to the Fab Four of Indian cricket, Id like to call em the Super Six!) as a bowler, but do they have batsman to back them up? Again, the victories in the subcontinent were largely on the back of Steyn's superlative performance. Do the Saffas have a replacement for Steyn? Or a spinner to win them matches in the SC? contd.

Posted by   on (March 20, 2013, 18:21 GMT)

This is probably the only reason I hate Indian Cricket Fans because they can never acknowledge the success or greatness of any other nation. And this is coming from an Indian who loves the sport. They have always excuses ready for everything. Whether you stupid detractors of SA acknowledge or not you can't change the fact that SA in tests are a formidable bunch of players and no other team comes close to them except England. And forget about any Sub Continental team beating them either home or away despite lacking a Genious Spinner in the team and you'll find that soon when SA play PAK in UAE and tour India. SA currently have the best players of spin in Kallis, AB, Hash and FAF even Smith and Elgar are pretty good and no other team can match them in pace department be it favourable or unfavourable conditions which is going to be same for both the teams. But really feel sorry for the ignorant and biased cricket moron watchers like Valavan, Vineesh Vedsen, Anindya Sen, mukesh_LOVE.cricke

Posted by Beertjie on (March 20, 2013, 18:13 GMT)

South Africa will stay on top for 3-4 years perhaps. By then some irreplaceables will be gone Kallis (after 2015 WC), Smith, Steyn. Playing Nostradus I'll say the team will be Elgar, A.N Other, Amla, de Villiers (c), Duminy, du Plessis, de Kock, Abbot, Morkel, de Lange, BN Other. That team will do OK in SA, but is unlikely to win on the sub-continent (without a like-for-like Steyn replacement) or another Hugh Tayfield. No one can ever replace Kallis, so it will likely start becoming difficult to maintain their high standards after 2015. But who will replace them? Well England and India have many players to choose from, but as SA themselves have shown, it's not quantity but quality that counts. You can all have a laugh but I believe that Australia will do it when their young spin bowlers (Agar and Zampa) mature. Now if only I could be so sure about the top 6!

Posted by   on (March 20, 2013, 17:20 GMT)

@ Keith Waters: SA is good no doubt but somehow they choke on bigger platforms

Posted by   on (March 20, 2013, 16:16 GMT)

@ Vaibhav Yadav - I didn't say when we had beaten India at home but I take your point that I implied last home series so I do apologise for "exaggerating" SA's achievements of course that shouldn't distract from what they have achieved! guess we will just have to wait till they next play which is a long wait

Posted by UglyIndian on (March 20, 2013, 16:07 GMT)

The way I see it, its South Africa ahead, then after some distance, it's England....and then many, many miles behind them are the rest.....

Posted by   on (March 20, 2013, 15:18 GMT)

@Keith Waters..check the records again.Yes SA drew their last test series against India but where you are wrong is that SA didn't win the test series against India at home,that series was also a draw 1-1.Not that I am saying that India is a better team than SA right now, SA is surely the current best but still you should post correct stats because a good team doesn't need exaggeration of its good performance to prove that they are good.

Posted by THE_MIZ on (March 20, 2013, 14:40 GMT)

@ Valavan, going back to 2005 to prove your point? 8 years ago, really? You've missed the point of this article which asks about the Durability of the CURRENT SIDE. SA have not played in SL since 2006 when I'm sure none (maybe only Kallis) of the current players featured in that team? How does that suggest that the CURRENT team will not win in SL. I'm sure they'd beat Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. This is their record since 2006/7 is W16 D6 L1 (vs. Australia in 2008/09)

Posted by OnlyTestsMatter on (March 20, 2013, 13:04 GMT)

as expected, not one of you had the decency or courage to answer my question posed on this article yesterday. so, here's my final question to all South Africa detractors: how much do you wish it was YOUR national side's greatness that was being debated here? BOOYAH!

Posted by   on (March 20, 2013, 12:21 GMT)

ooops meant not even Australia could boast only losing two test playing nations in their own backyard.

SA have proved that are No1 they have gone 6 years without losing away, 4 years unbeaten! they haven't lost in 12 series so there is nothing more they can realistically do to prove how good they are. I suspect when Kallis, Smith, Steyn, Amla, De Villiers and Philander call it a day this team will be looked on as one the best ever till then people will just have to keep putting up challenges and Smith and Co will just have to keep meeting them head on! it will take a very good team to beat this current SA team Home and Away!

Posted by screamingeagle on (March 20, 2013, 11:42 GMT)

@din7, sometime back there were a lot my countrymen screaming themselves hoarse about how India was going to destroy England and Aus in their own countries. You might want to take a cue from what happened in reality. Not saying SA will not win when India tours, but degrading other countries is never a great idea. Maybe you can take a cue from your SA team who are really good rolemodels. Amla et al. Peace.

Posted by   on (March 20, 2013, 11:25 GMT)

@ Valavan Please can you explain how it is sour grapes on my part when everyone keeps going on how close it was in England when SA won 2-0 with 1 test by and Innings and one test by 55 runs England where never in with a chance of winning the series but Im the one with sour grapes? Also SA have conquered Sri Lanka in 1993! have any Sub-continent teams conquered SA ? only two nations in world cricket have beaten SA in SA, not even Australia can boast that!

In reality SA have beaten both England and Australia in Back to back away Series, we drew with both India (twice) and Pakistan in both last away series and beat them both at home we beat Sri Lanka at Home we have never lost a series to New Zealand, the only series we have lost to the Windies was a one off test in 1992. The last team to beat us in an away series was Sri Lanka in 2006 - so really what do I have to be Sour about with SA achievements in test cricket? If you want sour then lets talk World Cups lol

Posted by brusselslion on (March 20, 2013, 10:57 GMT)

@mukesh_LOVE.cricket (March 19 @15:40 GMT): Here's a first. Me disagreeing with an Indian supporter sticking up for England! "...the (Eng. vs SA) series was much closer than what you are saying...". Mate, we must have been watching different series. England 'won' the 1st and last days of the series and pretty much 'lost' every day/ session in between!

Posted by brusselslion on (March 20, 2013, 10:47 GMT)

The simple answer to the question is 'Yes'. SA's record in Test series since 2006/7 is W16 D6 L1 (vs. Australia in 2008/09) and they have won their last 6 series. So durability doesn't appear to be a problem. OK, they haven't won in India. So what? No other team has a record to match. As for the future, sure, the great Kallis will be difficult to replace, and the lack of a good spinner doesn't help but, overall, their strength in depth looks impresive.

Try this simple test (no pun intended). Take any 2 sides and pick a composite team from them. Match SA with any other team and, if you are being honest, you will end up with, at least, 7 SA players in the combined team. Suggests to me that they are #1 by some distance.

Posted by   on (March 20, 2013, 10:38 GMT)

Even though South Africa beat Pakistan comprehensively, there were doubts on how they would perform in UAE in the return series. This defines it all. For a sustained no. 1 team, there should not be any doubt whether they would win the return series or not. When the Windies were all powerful or Aussies mostly through their powerful days, they were a threat in all conditions. That cannot be the case with South Africa. Its not entirely their fault but thats the way cricket has come up to. If the Asian team cannot handle top pace, the reverse is true for the other team with regards to spin. South Africa has been on the verge of becoming no. 1 for a long time, but only now they reached this position. This is purely due to their lack of facing spin. In February 2010, they won the first test in India. However India beat them at Kolkata to hold their no. 1 position. Steyn and Morkel on a good batting wicket were hit for 643 runs and 4 100s by Indians in an inning. They have to correct this.

Posted by Starboomber on (March 20, 2013, 9:44 GMT)

India is the holy grail of cricket judging by the comments. You beat India(ranked 4th or 5th at the time) you are the best regardless of how you perform against other teams...LOL

Posted by Sanjiyan on (March 20, 2013, 8:59 GMT)

We can nitpick all day and use one or 2 test matchs to prove or disprove a point. Fact is a win is a win weather its by 1 run or an innings and 500 runs. SA have not lost a test series for years now and havent lost a test in a long time either(not too sure, havent checked). At the end of the day they are currently the team to beat and some have come frustratingly close, while others never had a chance. All the IF's and BUT's in the world wont change the fact that SA currently has the best pace bowling lineup and arguebly the best batting lineup in the world. Love it or hate it..They will still hunt you team down.

Posted by mrgupta on (March 20, 2013, 4:33 GMT)

@TommytuckerSaffa: if i remember correctly last time India toured SA they almost Won the series if not for Kallis's heroics in the final test. SA was full strength then. Last time SA toured India they didn't win the series. So in the last 2 series between the 2 teams score is 2-2. For your information the very person who has not scored century for 48 innings thrashed the famous SA bowlers to all sides of the park last time he toured SA and scored 2 centuries. He also scored 2 centuries when SA last toured India. In all last 5 tests against the great South Africa he has scored 4 centuries. So if you guys Adore Batsmen then you need to keep your word.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (March 20, 2013, 3:39 GMT)

Junaid Dawjee claims that "Beating India at home in tests and one-dayers remains the holy grail of cricket."

No it does not! You are simply making that up. Why on earth should be defeating India a "Holy Grail?" It is no great achievement. South Africa have beaten India, in India. Indeed, it is India who struggle to beat South Africa, both in South Africa and IN INDIA!

India have drawn 8 tests with SA, and only won 7. SA have won 12. In India, India won the first series in 96/97, 2-1, but lost both matches in the next series in 09/00. India won the next series 1-0 in 04/05, and have not won a series in India since, drawing in 07/08 and 09/10. Of matches played IN INDIA, SA have won 5, and India have won 5 and 2 were drawn. India does not have a winning recored against SA…..IN INDIA!

The Holy Grail seems to be for India to win in SA, where they have won only 2 matches to SA's 7, and have NEVER WON A TEST SERIES.

Junaid Dawjee - before you make outrageous claims, check the facts.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (March 20, 2013, 2:42 GMT)

@ Optic. You really do need to take off the blinkers and accept that England were thrashed by South Africa. Comprehensively thrashed. So much so, that S. Rajesh, cricinfo stats editor, defined England's helpless capitulation and South Africa's effortless domination at the Oval as "The Most Comprehensive Test Victory" in the history of test cricket. Or, to put is simply, England were thrashed.

Read what S. Rajesh wrote here: http://www.espncricinfo.com/england-v-south-africa-2012/content/story/573667.html

P.S. Only rain prevented England from losing the second test and being completely whitewashed. Only rain, and another Saffa, of course ;))

Posted by ThatsJustCricket on (March 20, 2013, 0:27 GMT)

TommytuckerSaffa : So, as per your opinion the only fair contest between bat and ball is between batters and pace bowlers, right? As far as I can tell, the current series with Aus is providing a pretty strong contest between bat and ball, albeit a different type of bowlers, the spinners. Just because you dont have any spinners doesnt necessarily mean pacers are the only type of bowlers.

Posted by Johnny_129 on (March 19, 2013, 23:48 GMT)

SA are deserving no.1 and will remain for quite some time even if they don't reach the heights of prime WI or Aus. Was England's stay at no.1 longer than India's reign?? India can regain no.1 only if they find REAL quality in their fast bowlers and prepare domestic pitches to simulate overseas conditions.

Posted by Nerk on (March 19, 2013, 23:40 GMT)

In my mind, South Africa have had the strongest team for the last twenty years on paper. Ever since their return to the fold, legends like Donald, Kluesner, Gibbs, Kirsten, Pollock, Ntini and Kallis have graced the ranks. But they never quite got going. This is still apparent in the current team. take the recent series in Australia, they had the worse of the first two tests and had to fight to survive. They even had to come back in the final test in Perth. Sure, they won a match last time they toured India, but they also lost one and lost to India at home. But, it has to be said, something has changed about this team. They are more positive. Even Kallis has discovered batting doesn't have to be a battle. They want to win, they want to fight and that's what makes a great, if not legendary, team.

Posted by LillianThomson on (March 19, 2013, 22:57 GMT)

South Africa is a superb team, and the double talents of Kallis and de Villiers mean that they have a 13 man side.

But it's not going to last. The two players of the highest class are Kallis, for whom the end is in sight, and Steyn who can still bowl superbly, but who has already shown us his future - when he cuts his pace below 140K he is reduced from a God to a mere mortal.

The rest of the 27-29 year old core of whom Haigh writes are not world champion cricketers. Duminy and Morne Morkel do not have world class records, and du Plessis came late because he's not top class in ability, only temperament, and he was exposed by Pakistan.

And there are challengers. England have a very good team, as will Australia if they select their best test eleven rather than putting ODI specialists into the side. As for Pakistan, the Asif appeal verdict is already 2 weeks overdue, which suggests that Asif and Amir might be back much, much sooner than expected.

Posted by aavalentine on (March 19, 2013, 22:54 GMT)

What I really hate is people not checking their facts before they hit out on their keyboards. With Cricinfo, stats are so easily found that it's just plain lazy and ignorant pelting nonsense.

People like KiwiRocker. SA HAVE WON IN PAKISTAN! Please do everyone a favour and check your facts.

Posted by Chris_P on (March 19, 2013, 22:41 GMT)

A well researched article. The question is not if SA are worthy of a long run, they appear destined for a fruitful stay at the top, but the absence of quality opposition over a sustained period. When you see the fractured team make-up of the next 4 or 5 contenders, & know that a viable long term consistent side is still some time away, there is only a question on which team should occupy #2 on a long term scale. England have that opportunity in the next 10 months to cement that spot, but I am afraid there will be a merry-go-round for the #3 spot for some time yet..

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 21:51 GMT)

Sounds great! So what's their record against left arm spin of Bangladesh ?

Posted by Valavan on (March 19, 2013, 21:43 GMT)

@Keith Waters, Ofcourse that means COOK and AMLA are equal, if you stretch back to Cook's performance in 2006. But its a typical sour grape attitude about 2 balls to make it 3 - 1. where did your power packed seamers go on 2009. No fuel up there. so go back to 2005, when SA was beaten hands down by England in your own territory. When will you conquer SL? Do it first then speak. cricinfo please publish.

Posted by thruthecovers on (March 19, 2013, 20:58 GMT)

If I was the BCCI, i would make sure that at least 20 of the cazillion pitches at home is fast and seaming. So domestically, that is where my quality fast bowlers will come from and batsmen go to prepare and learn to play on such pitches. This tit for tat idea of getting back at the "West" for seaming pitches by preparing and playing on spin friendly ones at home will get them nowhere. Other than continualy being "lions at home" (love that qoute). The batsmen of other countries get to learn to play spin in the IPL and such but when and how do IND batsmen prepare for seaming greentops? Other than touring when its already too late? They need this to become a true cricket powerhouse other than just in the boardroom. In my humble opinion...

Posted by Reececonrad on (March 19, 2013, 20:53 GMT)

A great thing about this current crop of south African players is that they are not sitting on their laurels, when they have the chance as Ponting pointed out they pounced on the opportunities and dominate, the Oval test was the best of their history going to england who were number one and scoring 637 for the loss of 2 wickets and them losing by an innings. They have showed their ability to dominate during this summer as well and they have shown that there is a depth of talent (Du Plessis and Abbot amazing debuts when thrown into the deep end, both players not even expecting to play for their country when they did). When run through the list of players it is quite daunting Smith, Petersen, Amla, Kallis, AB, Faf, Elgar,Peterson, Philander, Steyn,Morkel. A mature side with a few youngsters being blooded into the setup. They do need a quality spinner, but we have an amazing seam attack and an amazing batting line up with a keeper who averages 50.50, Im certainly not complaining.

Posted by Soso_killer on (March 19, 2013, 20:07 GMT)

In opinion SA should have been in 2008, unfortunately they missed the trick by delaying Vernon's introduction. I can only see them at number for 2 years max (2015/2016). Which means we could have been number 1 for 8 years. Then Australia will take over, they are just too competitive as a nation.

Posted by TommytuckerSaffa on (March 19, 2013, 20:06 GMT)

@din7 Probably the best post Ive read in months and very true. Flat track bullies are in for a rude wake up call, it happens every year without fail. India beat a team at home and get then get over excited and over confident. They then tour and play on a wicket that provides a fair contest of bat and BALL and they come undone. In our country (SA) we adore batsman AND BOWLERS, we dont idolize only batsmen and certainly not ones which shouldve retired years ago and havent scored a test century in 48 innings !!!!!

Posted by thruthecovers on (March 19, 2013, 20:04 GMT)

...contd Therefore SA already prepared/ing for the day Kaliis decides to hang up his boots. Our frontline bowlers are good enough and young enough to get the result without an overly dependence on Kallis's bowling. And our debutants are making more than enough immediate impact to think we will not lose too much in that department. What we need is a replacement for Kallis the batsman. And even here Andrew Hudson and co is getting it right in Dean Elgar. Much maligned as he might've been (patronisingly I might add) by the Aussie commentators last time he was there, I've seen enough of him to think that he has what it takes to take over that number 4 spot. He'll be a different player next time he goes to OZ. Biased maybe, but I'll take Elgar over any Aussie bar Clarke, any Indian bar Kohli and Pujara but undecided on the ENG top 6, bar Ian Bell. So how formidable is that? Elgar slotting in and scoring with AB still keeping and JP coming in at 7? That is key...replacing Kallis the batsman

Posted by thruthecovers on (March 19, 2013, 19:44 GMT)

The cricket world is awaiting the next 2 BIG retiremnts in Tendulkar and Kallis. Re-phrase...awaiting Jacques Kallis' retirement but already calling for Tendulkar's. IND has already felt and will most probably still feel Tendulkar's non-contribution. His prolific runscoring has come to a screeching halt eversince he went searching for that "hundreth hundred". Jacques Kallis' loss is less tangible, because the SA batting line-up has shown they are less dependent on him to get the side in winning positions or getting them out of trouble like earlier in his career. And this is what this SA side have in common with especially the Aussies of the 90's and 2000's. Not quite demoralising but definitely daunting to know that when you get Smith, Amla walks in and after him it's Kallis and then AB. And he hardly bowls nowadays. Not necessary most cases as the frontliners are doing the job. And he won't play much ODI's or T20's anymore. Safe to say he will outlast Tendulkar. contd...

Posted by GeoffreysMother on (March 19, 2013, 19:38 GMT)

Good article Gideon, and I agree with most of it. I think there are only two things that can disturb them. One is just how much better will they be without Jacques Kallis: his contribution is immense. The other is how long and how well Philander keeps going. As yet he has not performed in sub continent conditions (good as he is his figures are flattered by not bowling here) where his bowling might be less effective. His fitness seems a bit suspect. Like Australia there is lots of potential seamer back up, but potential does not always turn into proven performance. In Kirsten and Smith they certainly have the two best leaders in world cricket.

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 19:36 GMT)

@ Asad_Khan1 the point is SA have gone there and drawn already so why does that not count? why is it always next time we will see?

As for all those people calling the recent Eng vs SA series close go back to 2009 where Eng drew with SA 1-1 yet two balls could have made it 3-1 to SA that is what you call close ! Englands last pair batting out to save the match twice.

@ Valavan please tell me I read your post wrong and you were not suggesting that Amla has not scored runs against India in India like Cook? Amla has an average of 132 with 4 100's and 2 50's in 8 innings in India so he certainly has done it!

Cricket is unpredictable, who knows what might happen? all we know is the past 5 years SA have been quality and they seem to have all the ingredients to keep that going for a while. Although I feel if New Zealand can get their house in Order they will be a very strong team, rivaling the team of Hadlee and Crowe! one can only look forward with anticipation to what the future holds!

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (March 19, 2013, 18:05 GMT)

@din7: Your logic is as prudent as a headless chicken. So I wouldn't even contemplate what you had commented. SA are deserving of their no.1 status and by far the best team going around in the TEST format. Having said that, I don't think India will lose as they did in England and Australia. SA may well win the series but it will be a close affair. I am sure India will do their homework to succeed in SA. If test cricket is to survive the challenge from the BEST and SUPERIOR format of cricket - T20, then it should arrive at a situation where teams are competitive away from home. I expect India to play well in SA. A young team can sometimes bring about the best qualities in sport. The key here is to keep all members of the team fit, especially the bowlers because we need to take 20 wickets to win any game of test match cricket. Following that, they need their batsmen to head to SA at least a month in advance, play 2-3 tour games before the first test. I am very confident of a good show.

Posted by GermanPlayer on (March 19, 2013, 17:30 GMT)

@mukesh_LOVE dude you need to change the way you look at teams. Why do you want us to wait till Kallis retires and Steyn gets injured? How can you be sure that there are no replacements? 2 recent debutants took 7 wickets on their debuts. SA are using AB as keeper so that they have 7 batsmen and when Kallis leaves they are left with 6 batsmen which is what a normal team has. So SA have their bases covered. Yes it is true that no one will have immediately same impact as Kallis or Steyn and will need time to grow. But consider the fact that Amla, AB, DuPlessis, Duminy, Morkel, Philander are all below 30 years and are likely to stay in this team for another 5 years. This means a stable team where newcomers can come in and take their time to settle down. Plz change your thinking.

Posted by IG123 on (March 19, 2013, 16:57 GMT)

Definitely the best team out there. What they need to find is a Test-quality spinner to win matches in Asia. To their credit, they have done well in India even without a good spinner. They were just 9 deliveries away from winning a Test series in India the last time. Not losing an overseas Test series since the 2006 series in Sri Lanka is an amazing record. They have done the hard work over the last 4-5 years to get here. First team to beat Australia in Australia since the Frank Worrell trophy in early 90s.

Got to love Steyn's bowling. What a great fast bowler. He's keeping Test cricket alive in a batting-friendly era.

Amla is so valuable for South Africa because he can handle spin very well.

Posted by din7 on (March 19, 2013, 15:51 GMT)

Just laughed out some comments of follish indian fans claiming SA bowlers will be tharshed by indian test batsmen...oh sorry T20 batsmen..whichever way u say.... well some of them will stop talkin after 3-0 drubbing in SA and some after SA come to india and thrash this mediocre indian side...our indian bowlers would take almost 10 days to get all SA wickets...also i would like to see some of t20 batsmen in indian test side like dhawan, vijay, dhoni, jadeja, selfish sachin etc...dancin to steyn, morkel, phil....just remember the 2-1 tharshin eng gave to india...if eng come back right now they will surely whitewash india in india....SA would find only 1 difficulty in beatin pak in UAE cause of ajmal but still i think they will do it...the fact is SA, Eng are now top test sides with pak, aus, ind in 2nd tier, sri, nz, wi in 3rd one

Posted by mukesh_LOVE.cricket on (March 19, 2013, 15:40 GMT)

@oceansaffa - bro am not English , i am an Indian (and after India , Australia is my next favorite team) i said England is the best team as a neutral observer , yes agreed SA beat England in England but the series was much closer than what you are saying , lets see how good SA will be when/if Dale steyn gets injured and kallis retires..

Posted by SamRoy on (March 19, 2013, 15:36 GMT)

I think UAE will be a good challenge for SA. If they can draw the series (winning will be awesome) there against Pakistan against the class of Ajmal and Rehman that will be a fine achievement.

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 15:32 GMT)

The sentiment in the article is correct - SA look very strong. But the idea that no team can match SA in terms of players in test squads in the last year getting centuries, half-centuries and five-fors is just nonsense. England can, for a start: 10 centurions (Cook, Strauss, Compton, Trott, Bell, Pieterson, Morgan, Bopara, Prior, Broad), 5 half-centurions (Bairstow, Root, Bresnan, Swann, Finn), and 7 bowlers with five-fors (Swann, Panesar, Anderson, Broad, Bresnan, Finn, Onions)

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 15:10 GMT)

India have been unlucky. They lost they coach Kirsten, who had moulded them to fight for each other, gone were the days that there could be an Indian collapse around the corner. They lost Kirsten, and the players they were counting on did not step up to the plate to deal with the host of retirees especially VVS and Dravid. Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, and Yuvraj Singh did not step up in Test cricket, maybe we can blame IPL but their techniques were really found out. Moreover, though the perennially injured Zaheer Kahn, together with a loss of confidence of Ishant Sharma, meant India's plan under Kirsten to develop seamers fell apart. As I said India were unlucky, but it was also a level of greed from BCCI administrators because of the commercial golden goose of T20 cricket, and therefore did not place due emphasis on Test cricket. SA have none of these concerns. India are currently getting back, with better seamers, but the age-old problem of out of their home turf remains unanswered

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 15:01 GMT)

Most comments seem to mis-read the writer. His point is basically two-fold. One, SA is the best team at the moment. And two, their reign will be longer than the last predecessors, India and England, because they have a durability. It is true that the win against England was closer than SA fans are acknowledging, but SA was the better team in every test. The dropping of Pieterson was significant, but even with him there, SA was clearly the better team and England weren't able to improve their game. For one Anderson is over-rated by the English (like Wayne Rooney is as well). Anderson would never be the spearhead or take the new ball for the SA team, he may replace Morkel, but he is no Steyn nor Philander. English fans have to also accept that they got to No.1 by defeating a Pakistani team that was in disarray because of the no-ball match-fixing scandal, Pakistan were embarassed to even play well. I will raise my matters on India in the next post.

Posted by TommytuckerSaffa on (March 19, 2013, 14:52 GMT)

Yes they are the real deal, they are here to stay and time for people to get used to it. The statistics don't lie only your bias does. We have the best batting top 5 in the world, we have the best pace attack in the world. We 6 players in the TOP 10 for Test cricket - which is just unreal. Lack of a spinner, sure, but our batsmen play spin well so we can still amass big scores against spinning teams. Enough said.

Posted by sixnout on (March 19, 2013, 14:50 GMT)

Hashim Amla is in a purple patch. Not only is he in impervious form, he is in such a state the opposition is gives him a mandatory let off if he gives them a chance before he has scored big. AB and Biff are batting well. Kallis is providing the required support. Dale Steyn, Morkel and Philander are so different and yet so effective. I dont see India beating them in India forget beating them in SA. What a lot of people seem to forget is that while the Aus barring Clarke are not able to figure the Indian Spinners, Amla, AB, Kallis and Smith do play spin pretty well.

"If Kallis Retires, if Steyn loses form, if AB keeps wickets all the time" "If "ifs" and "buts" were candy and nuts, wouldn't it be a Merry Christmas?". I believe SA would be the top dog for atleast the next 3 to 4 years

Posted by stormer1980 on (March 19, 2013, 14:38 GMT)

@RANJAN2012 ..Your passion for the Indian Team is commendable but is also very clouded ... You speak about Viru .. this guy is so off form , its not even funny ... You speak about Philander and Henrique , not even in the same class ... does speed make you a dangerous bowler when spinners are turning it , what do you think will happen when a slowish bowler can move it both ways ? Steyn swings it in the air , doesn't even need your so called flat pitches .. I agree , your spinners are world class .. but so are the South African batsman ... India the real number 1 .. Amla number 1 in test and One day , Steyn number one for years and years ,Kallis the best all rounder in test cricket .. Like I said , I admire your passion .. but you talking like every other passionate supporter of there countries spoke before SA went there and taught them a lesson

Posted by Valavan on (March 19, 2013, 14:19 GMT)

@SundarRajan, Very funny comments, COOK scored many 100s in India, Amla is yet to score in subcontinent to emulate COOK. Was this kind of predictions given when England started the tour of India, Until Amla do it we have to wait and see. Moreover GC Smith has failed to conquer SL in SL. There we can see Philander and Morkel magics. Yep SA is the no.1, can be at no.1 longer than India. but to compare with Windies of 80s and early 90s and Aussies between 1995 - 2007, its too early. We saw how Philander and friends suffered in flat adelaide wicket. so first play then speak about greatness.SA think of conquering India/Pakistan/SL without decent spinners possibly in dreams. cricinfo please publish.

Posted by Asad_Khan1 on (March 19, 2013, 14:15 GMT)

@keith waters Last time when SA played Pakistan in UAE, it was a flat pitch. That is why series ended as 0-0 in 2 test matches. Moreover, at that time Ajmal was not at his peak. In England series, Pak offered them spin wickets and in next series against SA, expect same kind of spinning wickets. Ajmal and Rehman will be more than handy on these pitches and its not going to be easy ride for SA. Lets hope for the good contest.

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 14:01 GMT)

Whole-heartedly agree Gideon. Well written article - succint, yet gets the point across very well. I'd be interested to see what their fate is once Kallis retires. Can't be long, can it? He's 37, and although he looks as fit as ever, you've got to think another 2 years and he will hang up his boots. Once he goes, you will basically need to fill 3 players as you rightly point out - a number 4 batsman, a swing bowler who reverses the ball at 140, and a fantastic slip fielder. In order to be as good as the West Indians of the 70s / 80s and the Australians of 1995-2008, they really need to win in the subcontinent though - not saying they can't, they should, but their lack of spin quality might come to haunt them. Yet, they are still far and away the number 1 side in the world.

Posted by DeckChairand6pack on (March 19, 2013, 13:33 GMT)

Wonderul article Gideon, that made my lunch time! No-one does disappointment like the Proteas, and having been on the Green Machine's rollercoaster since readmission, it is all the more gratifying that they have finally put a team together deserving of best in the world. Who knows what tomorrow holds, but for now, I cannot get enough of watching them!

Posted by dariuscorny on (March 19, 2013, 13:24 GMT)

i doubt the grit of SA batsmen specially playing in India which Cook had,you cannot predict the result which is not happening now,let me elaborate it Aus may hv been thrashed in India but cannot be taken lightely in Ashes this summer,Cricket is a funny game,but yes Cook had the grit to stay in the crease and he was playing absolutely no shot with Ashwin and others were experimenting too much ,Amla is in supreme form but can be tamed.......in these conditions and yes iam giving India no chance when they travel to SA this winter but you never know what can happen in cricket .......

Posted by 2nd_Slip on (March 19, 2013, 13:08 GMT)

People talking about Smith's retirement gosh!! the lad still has a good couple of years left in him.He's only one year older than Micheal Clarke ,if Im correct, and I dont see people talking about him retiring anytime soon ,hey?. With regards to Kallis, yes most definately players like him come pop up once every 3 decades and SA will find it hard to replace him. But with the exception of Kallis the core of the team also has Steyn and Philander(#1 and 2 bowlers in the world by a country mile),Smith(the most experienced and best test captain around at present),Amla and de Villiers(the two best batsman in the world at the moment) who are all in their prime and have a minimum of 3-4 yrs of service to offer in the test arena. The only test team that comes close to SA, Eng was also given a thrashing in their own backyard in the hands of this ruthless Proteas side not so long ago.So the verdict is yes I certainly think they will dominate the test arena for a good while.

Posted by screamingeagle on (March 19, 2013, 13:07 GMT)

What I like about SA is that while they are an excellent team, they do not come across as bullies or arrogant. Very likeable guys actually, and well deserving of the top spot. Kallis might leave after a few seasons, but at the moment, there is no team to match them. How well they handle transitions is what would mark them as one of the all time great teams. We will just have to wait and watch. Meanwhile, don't bother with the arguments, man for man and as a group, they are well ahead of the competition. Pretty sure Kirsten has to get a lot of credit in that. Kirsten factor would help them when India tours, but don't think they need that. Fast, short balls and things would go pear shaped for our Indian team :) Hope not, but pretty sure that is what would transpire.

Posted by insightfulcricketer on (March 19, 2013, 12:50 GMT)

SA will reign to be No.1 as long as Steyn is no.1 strike bowler and fit. Cricket teams who are durable No.1 are the ones who are not one trick pony in terms of world class bowling. West Indies of yore had Malcolm,Holding and Garner where even if one drops out they were more than capable.Similarly the Aussies of 2001-2003 era had Mcgrath,Warne and Gillespie where even if lets say Mcgrath pulled out the remaning were more than capable to taking 20 wickets. Even ardent SA fan will admit take out Steyn and this same SA team will struggle to get 20 wickets at home forget about away. That rests my argument.

Posted by 2nd_Slip on (March 19, 2013, 12:49 GMT)

I find it ironic when cricket writters,fans and analyst alike all pretty much agree that the best test side ever was the great West Indian team that terrorised opponents around the world with superb aggresive fast bowling. Then surprizingly you ask them if South Africa are a durable #1 test team they will all rant about the fact that the Proteas dont have an impressive spin bowler...They have the best two fast bowlers in the world today(Steyn & Philander) well suported by Morkel(who would easily walk into any test side at the moment) not to mention great prospects in the young De Lange,Morris and Abott so is it me or are they missing something here...

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 12:46 GMT)

@Ranjan2012 The most foolish thing happening over here is that your comments are being noticed and given importance. Such stupid and ignorant comments don't even deserve a look. That pretty much sums it all.

Posted by OnlyTestsMatter on (March 19, 2013, 12:29 GMT)

I have a question for you, South Africa detractors: When South Africa tour India, and if they win, will you have the courage and decency to post under every article regarding it that SA are a great team? Well, will you? Or will you just come up another excuse? Pathetic.

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 11:48 GMT)

If you are the best team in the world, you have to beat teams in their own backyard ..South Africa needs to win against Pakistan (UAE), India (in India) & SL (in SL) to be considered as the best ever team in the world.. I doubt SA would be able to win against these teams in dead sub continental wickets with their pace attack..Philander & Morkel would be exposed in these parts of the world...SA team minus kallis would be a completely different team ..Exciting times ahead of us ...

Posted by MrPontingToYou on (March 19, 2013, 11:44 GMT)

SA have no immediate weak links. Altho there are a couple areas that could be improved. First of all, the opener petersen does just enough without being brilliant, and with the strength of batting behind him SA can get away with that. The only other area imo thats not real top class is the spinners. Robin is good but not great, but he makes up for that with his batting from time to time and his fielding. Again, because of sa's strength, they can get away with that. on pitches suitable for pace and seam, SA are a major force with 4 top quality pacemen and kallis as a 5th bowler. All in all as things are at the moment, England are the only other team with the potential of taking the number 1 spot away from them. Looking forward to the next time they meet!!

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 11:40 GMT)

@i totally agree with sundar...to all the indian cricket fans- WINTER IS COMING!

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 11:40 GMT)

@strudi74. The question is whether SA are a DURABLE No1. Therefore it is perfectly valid to speculate what happens when the 37 yr old Kallis retires. Apart from anything else, take away a great slip catcher, and suddenly the odd good batsman is getting a second life. This makes a huge difference as witnessed by the series determining 1500 runs Amla scored in England AFTER being given second chances. England are still suffering without a reliable slip fielder after the retirement of Strauss. Take away JK's runs and partnership breaking wickets, and SA could remain no. 1, but don't underestimate the huge contribution JK has made to getting SA to the top. SA's batting line up is no longer as dependent on JK as it was, and there are other bowlers who can step up, but SA will have to make a choice between a bowler or a batsman or a relatively weak all rounder. Rest assured they won't have the luxury of picking a specialist slip fielder. Ask Dale Steyn which he would prefer!

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 11:29 GMT)

Finally some recognition coming this SA team's way, cant believe people are even debating whether they are currently the best team or not surely the fact that they have lost only 1 series in the last 5 years when their nearest competitions have lost more than that in the last 12 months! All those who thought the Series in England wasn't convincing are a little deluded England never had a chance of winning the 2nd test and as for the 3rd chasing 346 with both openers gone for pretty much nothing it would take a miracle to win a 55 run win is still a good margin of victory! And finally why does south africa have to beat India or Pakistan in the subcontinent to be number 1 shouldn't it be India and Pakistan have to beat SA in the sub-continent to be considered a good team? its been 8 years since India beat SA and 9 years for Pakistan - last time SA faced Pakistan in the UAE Ajmal had match figures of 3 -197 so much for not being able to play him?

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 11:25 GMT)

ranjan dhawan is a one test wonder he is not a bradman stop dreaming..he will be ripped out by steyn and morkel i want to see that happen to put an end to silly comments on one test wonders.. steyn is one of the greatest fast bowlers of all times.... try to respect that

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 11:16 GMT)

@ranjan ..... veeru smacked the bowlers in a road wicket where Amla also scored a hundred..the test was a dull draw what happened to the same viru in ahmedabad...his poor stumps was sent for a toss ...ok dont make statemnts on one knock..when cook can score hubdreds and hundreds aganist the great ashwin amla will score double hundreds ok stop ur ranting.....

Posted by vamos_rafa on (March 19, 2013, 11:05 GMT)

I guess the author forgot to mention that India also drew level a series in SA. He has only mentioned the loss to Oz and drawing of the series to England/Oz. Also, I don't think India were that bad a number . They were on top for 20 months. Won a series in NZ and WI. Drew level in SA/SL. Ironically the first series that India lost made them lose their number 1 ramking! It was a whopping nonetheless though :)

Posted by Ranjan2012 on (March 19, 2013, 10:58 GMT)

@Sunder Rajan , @Xolile ,@shovwar,@thruthecovers , I just have a feeling , after reading your comments , that , you have not seen the way Veeru thrashed the SA pace battery to score more than 300!!!In India these world famous Quicks will be thrashed , first one to see the bitter end will be Philander with 130 ks , he will be given the treatment "' La Henrique"!!! I am dying to see Shikhar dhawan smack the Phillis , Steyn & co in Firoz Shah Kotla !!

Posted by strudi74 on (March 19, 2013, 10:54 GMT)

I really love how all the SA detractors keep asking what would happen if we lost Kallis and Steyn and DeVilliers and Amla, yadadadada. Why is this any different from any other team? In the same scenario where England are now the best in the world according to some, what would happen if they lost Cook, Trott, KP and Anderson? Reality check: These guys are in the SA side NOW and that fact helps SA be the best in the world by a long way. The retirement and injury bridge will be crossed when we get to it but in the meantime, unfortunately for everyone else, these are the players you are facing. If you want to theoretically remove our 4 best players you need to do the same for every other team out there.

Posted by NewlandsRules on (March 19, 2013, 10:51 GMT)

All this talk about a spinner - what does it matter? They've gotten where they have without a "frontline" spinner. Same for the Windies. Geez man ever since Shane Warne it has become obligatory for a team to have a spinner. Let's face it - he was the best bowler in that Oz line-up - that's why he stood out. The Oz team didn't have Dale Steyn! They had some not-so-great bowlers - good but not great! Ooh-aah-Glenn McGrath was not outstanding, nor was Lee and nor was Gllespie. Only Warne. Suddenly everyone must have one.

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 10:31 GMT)

@ Ranjan2012 i totally disagree with ur comments.Amla & AB will destroy indian spinners and Steyn is more than enough to rout indian batsmen...SA are the best in the world and will contnue to be for a long time.I am a indian but a true nuetral purist cricet lover and for me Amla is the ultimate batsman....

Posted by shovwar on (March 19, 2013, 10:27 GMT)

@ RANJAN....Steyn made sachin n co dance in Nagpur and Ahmedabad. England cant even stand up against SA at home. England beating India does not make them the Best. India is easy. And @ Kiwirocker please do not post wut u dont know. He is talking about SA tour of Pakistan not UAE. The last time Steyn toured Pakistan he made SA win the series. Check your facts.

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 10:24 GMT)

@Ranjan 2012....i can only laugh at ur comments....Amla & AB will destroy indian spinners in india and steyn alone will rip through the hyped batting line up of kohli and others. i am an indian but i am a nuetral cricket fan and the fact is SA is leagues ahead of india and streets of England.........

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 10:21 GMT)

I think South Africa is currently the best going around. specially in their own conditions. England is good too but they lost the series to South Africa last year which resulted in them slipping to the next best spot in the ranking. but comparing them with the like of Aussie in the prime and W.Indies , i dont think that they are good enough. Firstly they haven't been tested in the subcontinent. England bad luck was , as soon as the got to the top, they had to play against all 3 major subcontinent teams on not so friendly (for england) pitches. This resulted in the downfall. Although they did recover. but it was late. The main test for South Africa is to play the subcontinent teams in their conditions. and also it will be interesting to see when kallis retires, who will be the replacement. But for now. South Africa is way ahead of any other team, with only England having them in their sight.!

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 10:15 GMT)

I think South Africa is currently the best going around. specially in their own conditions. England is good too but they lost the series to South Africa last year which resulted in them slipping to the next best spot in the ranking. but comparing them with the like of Aussie in the prime and W.Indies , i dont think that they are good enough. Firstly they haven't been tested in the subcontinent. England bad luck was , as soon as the got to the top, they had to play against all 3 major subcontinent teams on not so friendly (for england) pitches. This resulted in the downfall. Although they did recover. but it was late. The main test for South Africa is to play the subcontinent teams in their conditions. and also it will be interesting to see when kallis retires, who will be the replacement. But for now. South Africa is way ahead of any other team, with only England having them in their sight.!

Posted by BellCurve on (March 19, 2013, 10:14 GMT)

@Ranjan2012 - You seem to have missed the point I have raised entirely. SA enjoys a nice cushion at the top of the ICC Test Team Ranking table. It will take a while for anyone to catch up. Moreover, the main point you have raised (i.e. that fast bowlers are general ineffective in India) is very easy to refute. Hadlee, Marshall, McGrath, Wes Hall, Roy Gilchrist, Alan Davidson, Courtney Welsh, Garth McKenzie, Chris Old, Dale Steyn, Michael Holding, Bob Willis, Bruce Taylor, Andy Roberts, Jason Gillespie, Donald, Shoaib Akhtar, Ray Lindwall, and even Matthew Hoggard - they all have excellent records in India. All of them average less in India than Kumble. And we all know than Kumble was basically an Indian conditions only specialist (he struggled everywhere else).

Posted by thruthecovers on (March 19, 2013, 9:55 GMT)

RE the article...are they durable no 1's. For sure. They got there the right way, ie winning away from home. Were it not for their avg home record, they would got their alot sooner. This summer they seem to have corrected that too. The previous 2 , ENG and IND got there mostly by winning at home.

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 9:54 GMT)

Beating India at home in tests and one-dayers remains the holy grail of cricket. England managed to beats India in the tests but were pulverised in the one-dayers. But for one Monty Panesar England might have suffered the same fate as Australia in the tests. Lets hope that from amongst our current crop of spinners someone does a monty...if not then we will have to take it out on the english and the aussies again!

Posted by thruthecovers on (March 19, 2013, 9:43 GMT)

Ranjan2012 if you consider Dale Steyn's 7-53 in Nagpur a couple of years ago dysfunctional, what do you call Sharma? And didn't the English change tack when SA was there by producing drier pitches to bring Swann into the game more and negate our fast bowlers. How did Swann go in that series? Just because you fellas had your second thrashing at the hands of the English in as many series, does not make them world beaters. Surely you realise to measure ENG performances against IND is flawed? IND's thrashing of Aus notwithstanding...As far as SA in IND, comes down to 4 crucial wickets imo. Amla, Kallis, AB and JP. Arguably some of the best players of spin in the business. Unlike the current Aus batting line-up. But we'll cross that bridge when we get there. Btw, I see what you are trying to do...by over-embellishing ENG's status, IND can't be all that bad then ay? lol

Posted by KiwiRocker- on (March 19, 2013, 9:29 GMT)

HNREDDY:Your comments have a factual mistake. SA have not won in Pakistan. Their last series against Pakistan was in UAE that was a draw.I quite disagree with this article. I do not see this SA team as successful and as verstile as lets say Australia of 2000's and West Indies and Pakistan of 80-90's. Firstly, SA has no quality spinner. They got zero chance to win against likes of India and Pakistan in spin friendly conditions. Does anyone really believe that SA can win against someone of Saeed Ajmal's quality on a spinning track? while the same spinner took 10+ wickets in SA's own backyard. SA's opening partnership is weak as Aliviro Peterson is no where close to likes of Hash and Kallis. Indeed SA are the best test team in world, but their results in home conditions are no different to Pak thrashing England 3-0 in UAE or India hammering Australia.Steve Waugh had a very verstile bowling attack on his disposal. SA's 3-0 win against Pak was also full of umpiring mistakes and misleading!

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 9:27 GMT)

remove steyn an amla devillers ...they will never be no. one

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 9:16 GMT)

One question about the concluding paragraph .. Didn't Smith resign as SA ODI Captain after the 2011 WC?

Posted by bored_iam on (March 19, 2013, 9:14 GMT)

@ i-s-r-a-r- POnting dint win. It was Gilchrist then. Just a correction.

Posted by Ranjan2012 on (March 19, 2013, 9:07 GMT)

@Xolile First of all let me rebuff your cricket knowledge , subcontinent produces spinner friendly pitches not flat pitches , wherein your special SA quicks will be dysfunctiona;l ,& SA attack is still one dimensional with pedestrian spinn attack , In Subcontinent their bowling attack will be thrashed , have you seen the latest thrashing meted out by Indian batsman to Aussies dude ??Just think of Philander's fate here in India , he will be smashed by Indian batsman allacross the park , England is truly no1 , not SA.

Posted by thruthecovers on (March 19, 2013, 9:02 GMT)

@skilebow Who was the spinner in the great WI's team to allow them their domination in the 80's? I can almost hear everyone going on and on the same thing about Windies then as you about the Sa's now. They traveled to the subcontinent quite regularly. They didn't even win consistently over there yet when people looked back, everyone agreed they were the dominant team. This SA team is currently at the top of their powers, winning more than they are losing. Everywhere they play. If they do exactly what they've been doing for the last 6-7 years,they will dominate. Just like the Windies and aussies did. These 2 team's domination had nothing to do with the make-up of the team other than each individual in that team performing to such an extent to influence the outcome of the game in their favor. Which is exactly what the SA's are doing at the moment. How long they do that for is another guess but it won't be because of a decent spinner or lack thereof. Stop mimicking each others silly comme

Posted by SurlyCynic on (March 19, 2013, 8:58 GMT)

Good article, enjoy Mr Haigh's writing.

Always good to read the comments from England fans about how 'close' the series loss to SA last year was. England were the home team, usually a drawn series is considered a good performance by the away team. But after all the English media predictions of 3-0 to England, SA won 2-0 including statistically the biggest thrashing of all time at the Oval. But some insist that England are the 'better team' - deluded.

Posted by CricketFollowers on (March 19, 2013, 8:58 GMT)

Eversince i started watching cricket its "SA" the best team in the world. Be it Test or ODI, they played the best cricket(except the finals & semifinals). They can beat any top team on a given day. I would rate WI 70,80,early 90's as the best team and then SA since their arrival in 92-till date and after that S Waugh's men from 99-02 dominated the world cricket. Its not that you have to rate a team just by WC wins but also the consistency that matters. Now they are the right team to be ONE. SURE they are durable NO.1.

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 8:46 GMT)

Think about these large Gaping Hole , before praising SA . 1. What happens when Kallis retires ? Where is the allrounder ? 2. In Amla, Kallis, Devillers to certain extent Smith , lies the batting powerhouse , once Kallis & Smith retires , this same batting line up will be found wanting . 3. In India , it's true SA has beaten India twice under Smith , but do not forget their bashing in Kanpur & Kolkata & spinner friendly wicket , what about 400+ stand involving Veeru ,where Veeru smacked Steyn all across the park to cross 300 ! SA will truely be considered No 1 , once they beat India in India. We will wait for that.

Posted by BellCurve on (March 19, 2013, 8:27 GMT)

Even if both Australia and England win their next Test matches, the gap between SA and the next best side will be 12 points. That will take a considerable time to close. SA is therefore virtually asured to be No1 for the next 12 to 24 months.

Posted by Optic on (March 19, 2013, 8:21 GMT)

@HNREDDY You do know when SA played in NZ last year they only won 1-0 because of rain affected games and also because they couldn't bowl NZ out. So far England have been involved in 2 rain affected test matches on pitches that more resemble some flat tracks in the sub continent but still made NZ follow on, pretty short sighted comment with a Test to play.

Posted by Optic on (March 19, 2013, 8:15 GMT)

@OceanSaffa With a name like that he obviously isn't English, like the other guy who agreed with him @sandy_bangalore they're both from India, so wined your neck in.

By the way, I know it's become a bit trendy to say SA thrashed England but in no way shape or form was that series a thrashing. Yes the first test match was an easy win for SA but the other two weren't at all, in fact England had a chance of winning both Tests going into the last session of day 5 of test 2 & 3. To say no other test side come close to you is arrogantly short sighted & also bias but then again you are the dude that said SA thrashed England and seem to be prone to hyperbole.

Posted by sean_kelly on (March 19, 2013, 8:00 GMT)

How SA replace two openers (one in the next 2 years and the other in the next 3 to 4 years), where they find a quality spinner (because Petersen's time is limited - he is going to be targeted) and how they plug the Kallis crater in the next 3 years will determine how they stay on top.

Posted by i-s-r-a-r on (March 19, 2013, 7:59 GMT)

Well i guess saying england is the no 1 team makes the recent thrashing india got in their own backyard by england much easier to digest for indians lol. Speaking of getting thrashed at home, the same england team got thrashed by southafrica in england last year when england was the no 1 team and in the process saffers got the no 1 title. Then they thrashed australia in australia (people argue australia dominated first 2 tests but truth is the rain spoiled the game in the first test and southafrica played the game with 10 men and saffers ended up as the winner mentally after the epic innings of du plesis in the second game) and then thrashed pakistan , the only team who everyone thought is unpredictable enough to challange southafrica. I mean seriously, what else do south africa need to prove? About winning in india, maybe they wont win a series in india but so didn't steve waugh and that did not stop anyone from calling that aussie side the best ever even before ponting won there.

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 7:29 GMT)

A great bit of cricket writing. It's always been clear to me that cricket produces the best writers - no doubt the unique nature if the game. Those long summers full of cut, thrust and siege. Glossy young heroes step forward as grizzled veterans battle athe wall of age. And all at its best on the page somehow... Made my day.

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 7:14 GMT)

They look good because, their opponents are too bad. I dont see any instance where they beat AUS , like what England did in 2005.

Posted by OceanSaffa on (March 19, 2013, 6:55 GMT)

@mukesh love- Dude r u a cricket fan or an English. All cricket lovers will tel u that no Team comes close SA in tests. Ur very belvd England was thrashed with the very same team thats playing NZ in England. U mention SA has no quality spinner, when did SA ever had 1? Dude dont be biased and credit where its due. For a long time SA have been bridemaid to Australia as the 2nd best Test team, where was ur England then? Come dude, SA might not be a great team 2 sum, but sure a dam very gud 1, which no current Test team cums close 2.

Posted by handyandy on (March 19, 2013, 6:53 GMT)

Being the best and staying the best are two different things. To stay the best you have to maintain the production line of great cricketers coming through the ranks over a long period ... decades even.

To my knowledge only the West Indies and Australia have maintained the number one spots for extended periods.

Can SA do it?

Only time can tell.

Posted by sandy_bangalore on (March 19, 2013, 6:47 GMT)

I second the opinion mr Mukesh_LOVE. Its England that is the best test team in the world in all conditions. They have two class spinners in swann and panesar, and tredwell is a good backup. And philander is untested on asian pitches, while Jimmy anderson has been outstanding here in the last two years. Its mainly Steyn and Kallis being the differentiating factor, lets see how SA can do once Kallis retires. And if Steyn gets an injury.

Posted by NinjaStarr on (March 19, 2013, 6:43 GMT)

Time will tell. We have had an easy summer after putting the Aussies to the sword. We do need to adopt the more-than-one-keeper approach, especially when playing tests. Heino Kuhn is the obvious choice though nobody seems to recognise this. Dane Vilas is a long-term option for ODI's and then eventually for test match cricket. We still need that special all-rounder though...

Posted by skilebow on (March 19, 2013, 6:36 GMT)

They are the deservedly the best for the moment but lacking any sort of spinner i don't think they will ever do well enough in Asia to stay no 1 for a long time like the west indies or aus and as this article hints they will struggle to replace Kallis

Posted by   on (March 19, 2013, 6:22 GMT)

best of all time!!!! all hail the king proteas . . .

Posted by Sanj747 on (March 19, 2013, 6:20 GMT)

Always a great read when Gideon writes. A true journalist and cricket lover.

Posted by DGIFT on (March 19, 2013, 5:51 GMT)

Name a player in the proteas Test Squad that is Not a potential match winner take your time il wait...... And thats the reason why SA are comfortably the no.1 ranked side.

Posted by CharlesR on (March 19, 2013, 5:47 GMT)

A very well written article and especially pleasing that it was written by an Aussie who recognises greatness when he sees it.

Posted by heathrf1974 on (March 19, 2013, 5:01 GMT)

The only nations that can historically challenge for number 1 status are Australia, England, India and South Africa (I don't think Pakistan have the resources yet with their nations instability). Currently South Africa are alone the best. Australia have a long way to go, India are rebuilding as well and England at the current rank of number 2 are probably at their peak. Hence South Africa may stay number one for at least the next five years.

Posted by mukesh_LOVE.cricket on (March 19, 2013, 4:37 GMT)

although a very good team , i don't think SA is the best team in world cricket right now , a lot of people might disagree but i think its England who is the better and a more balanced team. SA lacks a quality spinner , Kallis worlds best allrounder wont be playing for much longer , and on Asian pitches where they will have to bowl long spells to bowl a team out AB devillers keeping will start to affect his batting also philander will be ineffective on Indian pitches

Posted by BillyCC on (March 19, 2013, 4:35 GMT)

Yes, they are a durable number one, I can't see other teams challenging them when those teams have glaring weaknesses themselves, notably the lack of consistent and quality fast bowlers (South Africa have a monopoly on those).

Posted by Sir.Ivor on (March 19, 2013, 4:27 GMT)

Any side having a menacing pace attack will rule the rankings. That was true with the West Indies teams after 1978 and also with Australia from the mid 90s. Australia of course had the most successful spin bowler during that period as well. South Africa have Steyn,Morkel,Philander and an enviable bench to choose from. But they do not have a spin bowler who could take over when all else seems lost in a particular context. In view of this I do not expect them to be No 1 for as long as West Indies or Australia had managed to remain when they were at the top. The bench strength is very important just as much as a proper vision of the future by the management, to retain the N o 1 position.It is this gloating in the euphoria of getting to No 1that causes a precipitous decline. England learnt this soon after they ascended to the No 1 on the arid sands of the middle east and took corrective measures by which they toppled India at home.South Africa is usually good abroad but need to watch out.

Posted by RG2008 on (March 19, 2013, 4:17 GMT)

Great article, exactly why SA are number 1 in the world and by a reasonable margin. Smith's field placings are slowly getting more aggressive but it would be nice if he didn't put sweepers back everytime a couple of boundaries were conceded. A stark contrast to India who failed to put the foot on the throat of the Australians in the first innings and then had Dhoni push the field back after Haddin hit one ball over the top (at the time they were only 60 in front) - a more aggressive approach would have finished Australia off at least a half a day earlier. Enjoyable to see an aggressive team setting the standard in world cricket.

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Gideon HaighClose
Gideon Haigh Born in London of a Yorkshire father, raised in Australia by a Tasmanian mother, Gideon Haigh lives in Melbourne with a cat, Trumper. He has written 19 books and edited a further seven. He is also a life member and perennial vice-president of the South Yarra CC.

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